A KwaZulu-Natal-based community recycling initiative helped keep plastic out of the environment at the Ballito Pro 2022 surfing competition.
Thousands of nurdles litter South Africa’s beaches. These tiny plastic resin pellets, also called mermaid tears, are a source of microplastics in our oceans and are dangerous to marine life.
Nurdles are lentil-sized plastic pellets made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride, among others. These pellets are shipped, shrink-wrapped in 25 kg bags on pallet bases to factories around the world that melt them down to form plastic products.
Currently, nurdles are not considered hazardous as per the OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Act) Hazard Communication Standard and IMDG (International Maritime Dangerous Goods) code. In fact, most shippers don’t know even they have them on board, but if containers are lost at sea, the bags will split open, dispersing the nurdles.
Once spilt, this microplastic is hugely detrimental to marine ecosystems and humans, as they quickly find their way into the food system leading to ulceration, starvation and death. They do not biodegrade and a recent discovery indicated that nurdles follow the same ocean currents as turtles, making them particularly hazardous for these species.
“To put this in perspective, in 2017 we had a freak storm that resulted in two containers with trillions of nurdles falling overboard,” explained Swithenbank-Bowman.
“This resulted in 2.2 billion nurdles being spilt in the Durban Harbour from Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic). These washed up along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline from Ballito to the KZN South Coast. Only 72% percent of that spill has been cleaned to date.”
In addition to this spill, there was another spill of more than 174.5 metric tons in August 2020 off Plettenberg Bay, and there has been illegal dumping of nurdles by manufacturers upstream in rivers, with nurdles washing up on beaches in eThekwini region. To date, only 12.6% of these nurdles have been retrieved.
Clare Swithenbank-Bowman & Litter4Tokens has developed the innovative Mermaid Tear Catcher (MTC), a scooping device with holes specifically demarcated allowing the user to sieve the nurdles out of the dry sea or river sand. It is made from ocean-bound plastic, and all funds raised from the sales go towards the Litter4Tokens kiosks in South Africa, thereby creating a perfect, circular economy.
Previously, PETCO sponsored the sand-sifting nurdle trommel, as well as mermaid tear catchers, which can be used both as a sieve to catch nurdles and as a frisbee.
This year, the participants who collected the most nurdles over the course of the event stood the chance to earn themselves a PETCO-branded surfboard or paddle board made from recycled planks and resin from recycled glass.
The Litter4Tokens recycling campaign aims to feed, empower, educate, and employ the nation by creating a circular economy. It is also the joint winner of the 2022 PETCO Award in the Best Community Initiative category.